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Local Governments and School Districts Blog

Pray Before Local Government Meeting - Honor All Religions

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on May 9, 2014
Filed under Local Governments and School Districts

The United States Supreme Court, in the recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway held that prayers before a town meeting delivered by a "chaplain of the month" did not violate the Establishment Clause and therefore were not prohibited from being used by a local township at the start of its meetings. The majority opinion, by a 5-4 vote found there was no violation of the First Amendment by holding that "ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond that authority of government to alter or define." This quote by Justice Kennedy frames the ruling by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court also found that a local government unit may not discriminate against non-Christians when taking steps to select a "chaplain of the month" for reading at the local government meeting. In other words, the local government unit must honor all religions and acknowledge all religions when choosing someone to read a prayer at the start of a government meeting.

It is important to recognize that the prayers at the Town of Greece public meetings were generally secular in nature; however, the Town leadership had made it clear that any type of faith or even atheists were welcome to give the opening prayer. Local government units now are able to continue the practice of opening their meetings with a prayer but government leaders must be careful they offer the opportunity to all types of religions to give the opening prayer.